When equipping a kitchen, it is important to factor in key influences such as space and budget. Whilst there are a few stand-out key essentials, such as a saucepan, it is important to consider the quality, material and size of these when purchasing - although some may be more expensive, they will last well for many years to come and prevent you having to repurchase in future years. Similarly, it is important to have at least a small range of different sizes, as it is not practical to always cook in large cast-iron pots or pants. This guide is aimed to help you consider what are the essential pieces for your own kitchen that you can make work around your wants and needs.
One thing that you certainly don't want to compromise or cheap out on is pots and pans. A good set of solid stainless-steel or copper saucepans will last you anywhere between 15 years and a lifetime if properly cared for. A cheap set of flimsy pans (in particular non-stick pans) will be useless within a year. In addition, a pan with a good solid base will deliver more even heat distribution, helping prevent uneven cooking or burning.
When choosing saucepans, be sensitive to your own requirements. If you rarely need to cook for more than two people, invest in smaller pans and one large saucepan or casserole - these can also double up for making soups, stews and pastas. For a medium sized family, we recommend that you select at least four saucepans, each with a lid; one very small (12-14cm) for melting butter or other small jobs, two in the medium range (16-20cm) for cooking vegetables, pastas and other similar items, and one decent-sized deep pan with a capacity of at least 5 litres.
In addition to these four, a wide-based pan with shallow sides (26-28cm wide and about 7cm deep) will be a really useful addition. Depending on the brand, these may be branded as saute pans or deep frying pans. A pan of this size is perfect for any dish that requires evaporation to take place and where it is beneficial for more of the food to come into contact with the base of the pan, such as risottos, sauces, sautes and cooking rice by the absorption method.
Aside from these essentials, depending upon your budget and the style of food you enjoy cooking, you may decide to invest in a wok and/or a casserole. A wok can be as cheap and cheerful as you like. The thin sheet of steel that is used to make a wok may look flimsy but its purpose is to heat and cool in in instant - making it the ideal pan for stir-frying and all other types of healthy quick cooking. On the downside, if you go for a traditional steel wok they do require slightly more care to ensure they last. Plain, untreated steel rusts within hours if it is not thoroughly dried after washing, and will also need to be seasoned in order to build up its own natural 'non-stick'.
The casserole will likely be the heaviest pan in your kitchen. We recommend those made from cast iron - it is ideal for slow cooking and simmering. Cast iron is an excellent heat conductor, it takes a long time to heat up and even longer to cool. This means that the heat will spread evenly around the pan, creating in effect, an oven within an oven. With thick, heavy lids, that make it possible to trap moisture when slow cooking is essential without excessive evaporation or burning.
The options of what your other pans should be made of are seemingly endless, however in reality there are still very few modern inventions that can rival the tried-and-tested qualities of copper and stainless steel, perhaps with the exception of titanium non-stick (SKK), What matters is the pans that you invest in do the job you need them to do.
Stainless steel: the first thing to know is that it does not conduct heat well - other metals such as copper and aluminum do this much better, as well as cooling down much faster which makes them ideal for precision cooking. Many good-quality stainless steel saucepans will therefore have a layer of copper or aluminium sandwiched into their base. This layer distributes the heat, allowing for even cooking without 'hot spots'. It also makes the pan heavier, tougher and more resistant to use within a kitchen.
Most restaurant chefs will choose stainless steel pans over any other, with the exception perhaps of copper, due to its reliability, durability and relative ease of cleaning. However, it is worth mentioning that stainless-steel is not non-stick. They are excellent if you know how to use and respect their limitations. For the every-day domestic cook, titanium non-stick frying pans are an excellent alternative investment to take the stress out of frying if you don't feel fully comfortable using stainless steel.
No kitchen is complete without the addition of one or two good frying pans; one small (22-24cm) for fried eggs and bacon, and one large enough to cook a decent dinner for 4-6 people (28-36cm). Having access to good non-stick pans means that you can turn out perfect tortillas time after time, as well as being able to whack up the heat to sear steak to perfection. The non-stick elements are fused into the metal, meaning that it will not peel off over time and you can also use metal spatulas without fear of destroying the coating.
Rigid grill pans are also an excellent piece of equipment to have - made popular by its ability to cook quickly and efficiently without the need to use fat. Perfect for achieving those desired sear marks on steak or burgers.